Phil Mickelson and “The Duck,” Angel Cabrera, were the last two golfers splashing around Muirfield Village Golf Club, enjoying each other’s company as much as their relaxed competition, when someone with the U.S. team came up to Mickelson and told him his match was going to count.
“What?” Mickelson said.
That was the same question many wearing the red, white and blue had yesterday as the closing singles matches of the 10th Presidents Cup made the turn for home.
Needing to win only four of the 12 matches to clinch the cup for the fifth consecutive time against the International team, the Americans got three points in the first five matches from Hunter Mahan, Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson. They needed to win only one of the last seven.
Four matches and more than an hour later, they still needed one, and only three matches remained, each up for grabs.
“I must have asked 500 times, ‘How are we getting this fourth point? Where is the fourth point coming from?’ ” the famously unflappable U.S. captain Fred Couples said.
He repeatedly texted his assistant captains, Jay Haas and Davis Love III, asking them the same question.
A few minutes after Charl Schwartzel’s point for the Internationals reduced a seven-point lead to three, Tiger Woods — nursing a touchy back that had locked up on him on the 14th hole — two-putted the 18th hole for par to get the clinching point with a 1-up victory over Richard Sterne.
“You’re nervous,” Couples said. “At no time was I a nervous wreck, but it was nice when Tiger two-putted that last green to get the point.”
The score ended up 181/2-151/2, the closest margin in the biennial competition since the United States won by three points in 2005.
“I was like in a similar position as Freddie: Where is our fourth point going to come from?” Woods said. “I was at a point where I wasn’t feeling my best coming down the stretch and happened to get a 1-up lead (when Sterne air-mailed the 16th green and bogeyed). I was just trying to hang on to that.
“Problem was, I knew I wasn’t feeling good, and if I happened to mess up 18, we had to continue playing until it’s decided. I was like, ‘I really don’t want to play anymore. Can I just win, can I halve this last hole somehow?’ And it ended up being that way.”
The final couple of hours injected some welcome drama into a competition dominated by fatigue caused by repeated delays and play suspensions. Nearly 2 inches of rain fell on Muirfield Village during the four days, making for easy scoring but long, hard hours at the course.
“I never played three matches in a day before. That really was a first,” said Woods, who did that on Saturday. “It’s been a long week, and I’m a little bit sore, and certainly I’m looking forward to not touching a club for a while.”
Moving the start of the singles ahead by three hours yesterday, to 9:20 a.m., likely avoided more delays and a Monday finish. It bought enough time to get play finished by mid-afternoon, before more heavy rain began pounding the course.
“It’s been a long week,” International captain Nick Price said, “and I’m so glad we got it finished.”
Price, his team five points down when play was suspended by darkness on Saturday, had hoped to turn momentum when the final four foursomes matches resumed early yesterday. But the Internationals’ deficit grew by a point after Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen lost a 3-up lead with six holes to play and were beaten 1-up.
“We had a tall order this afternoon,” Price said. “We were all a little down in the room this morning after the finish of the team matches. I can’t tell you the effort these guys made this afternoon. I am proud and honored.”